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Here's a sentence from the Hobbit by JRRT.

The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill - The Hill, as all the people for many miles around called it - and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another.

To me, it reads like it refers to the "tunnel". Also later in the same paragraph, it's obvious that the tunnel had doors on both sides.

The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows.

But the translations do not agree.

The Japanese translation says it's the hill.

... この山のここかしこにたくさん小さな丸いドアがあいています

The German translation says the Tunnel.

... runde Türen öffneten sich zu diesem Tunnel, zunächst auf der enen Seite und auch auf der anderen.

Some keep the pronoun, so are not helping.

(I'm no expert on any of these languages, so possibly misinterpreting).

Which is right? The doors opened out of the hill, or the tunnel?

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  • Grammatically, it could be either, so the only way to solve the problem is to look at the book and see which seems more likely.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 18, 2022 at 15:25
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    The bit about the hill being known as "The Hill" is a parenthesis. I'm sure the second 'it' refers to the tunnel. The Japanese translator has misunderstood it. Apr 18, 2022 at 15:55
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    FWIW, in the Italian translation (Lo Hobbit), the "it" is the masculine esso, and must refer to the (masculine) tunnel (un tunnel) and not the (feminine) hill (la collina).
    – DjinTonic
    Apr 18, 2022 at 16:25
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    @Zan700 It's a tunnel in a Hobbit hole (Bag End), more like a corridor for them. The doors open to separate rooms, and the rooms on the left side are the only ones to have windows. I think "not quite straight into the side of hills" means oblique, that's how one side of the tunnel is closer to the side of the hill. I'm not sure whether it goes through. * But of course this is all based on my understanding that the doors are in the tunnel.
    – Eugene
    Apr 19, 2022 at 4:08
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    @Zan700 There are lots of them in fact, by the author himself, although not included in the book (for most editions I think). In one of them we are inside, but looking out from the entrance. Some show the exterior - an array of windows to the left of the entrance. There are several other similar doors on the Hill but far away. They apparently lead to other hobbits' holes.
    – Eugene
    Apr 19, 2022 at 6:39

2 Answers 2

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There are several reasons to conclude the antecedent is "tunnel":

  1. Consider this construction:

The horse lived in a white stable, and its door was red.

It seems perverse to use a compound structure, with two equal verbs, to attach description to the object of one of them. In the present quote, "The tunnel wound into the hill, and many doors opened out of it" is comparable.

  1. The doors are mentioned in connection to the tunnel. One presumes that they are literally connected. Even if we try to read the sentence as saying that doors opened out of the hill, there is no reason to mention them if they do not communicate with the tunnel. Perhaps we might take it to mean that doors in the tunnel communicated directly with the outside. In this case, we are saved by the specifics: The tunnel is probably no more than a few meters wide. The hill is probably a few dozen meters wide. If the tunnel skirted the outer edge of the hill, then doors on one side could "open out of" the hill, but not both sides, and certainly not if the tunnel goes more or less straight into the center of the hill.
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I agree with Andy and would like to add.

If you look at the long dashes, the part of the sentence — The Hill, as all the people for many miles around called it — can be considered an "aside" or break from the description of the tunnel. So "it" refers to the original subject, the tunnel.

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